By Meera Srinivasan
Colombo, December 29 (The Hindu): Most cricket buffs in India only got a glimpse of their hero Virat Kohli’s wedding and reception through videos and photographs on social media. But one ardent fan from Sri Lanka got a chance to attend the Mumbai reception on Tuesday, following a personal invitation from the Indian captain.
Gayan Senanayake is one of Sri Lanka’s best known cricket fans. Nearly 35,000 people follow his public page on Facebook — he describes himself as “Cricket Cheering Leader” there — and his recent photograph with Kohli and Anushka Sharma (together nicknamed ‘Virushka’) at the reception has gone viral on social media.
Sri Lankan fans, evidently excited for him, were full of praise for Kohli on Twitter and Facebook, for his thoughtful invitation.
“It was just great, I went with the entire Indian team. Virat even danced with me,” gushes Mr. Senanayake, who returned to the island on Thursday morning, after a 45-day trip to India.
That’s what Mr. Senanayake does. He travels wherever the Sri Lankan team tours to cheer them and “my motherland”.
“Virat asked me if I am staying for the last T-20 between India and Sri Lanka. When he knew I was around, he said ‘Gayan, please extend your stay by a few more days to attend my reception,” Mr. Senanayake said.
The familiar, first-name basis to their friendship has a backstory that began a decade ago.
In July 2007, Kohli came to Sri Lanka to play the Tri-nation Under-19 Tournament, against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. “That was the first time I met him and had a chat. He was the captain of the team,” Mr. Senanayake told The Hindu.
They met again in 2008 at Dambulla, and then during Sri Lanka’s tour of India in 2009 “when Virat scored a 100 in Eden Gardens”. And every time the Indian sporting star visited Sri Lanka, the two were sure to catch up over a meal.
Mr. Senanayake fondly recalls a story from many such meetings. He was in Bangladesh in 2010 to cheer for Sri Lanka in the Tri-series that India also played.
“I had no place to leave my luggage. Virat and Rohit [Sharma] were sharing a room in the hotel and he asked me to keep it there. It was soon after the end of our civil war, and Virat joked with me, asking, ‘There are no bombs inside, right?’” Mr. Senanayake laughs.
It was backyard cricket with his neighbors during his childhood that got Mr. Senanayake hooked to the game.
From 2001 he made it a point to be with the Sri Lankan team wherever they played and cheer for the them. “Players will be around for five or six years. But fans like me will remain so our entire lives.”
When he was six, he suffered an illness that left him with a physical disability, but he has no trouble travelling.
He is grateful to local company Deen Brothers Imports Pvt. Ltd. (DBL), for whom he is brand ambassador. “They have been sponsoring all my trips,” he said.
Amid the many selfies with cricketing greats, including Sachin Tendulkar, and Bollywood stars at the wedding reception, Mr. Senanayake managed to chat with the groom.
“He asked me when I plan to get married and if I have a girlfriend. I said no, because I want the freedom to travel for all the matches Sri Lanka plays. He said I must find someone. Virat is a good guy!”